covid vaccine

The Supreme Court today blocked the Biden administration’s mandate that would have required COVID vaccines or frequent testing at employers with 100+ employees. The vote was 6-3.

The mandate would have required workers at large employers to be vaccinated or to wear masks and be tested weekly at their own expense. There were exceptions for those with religious objections or who work remotely or outdoors. The case made it to the Supreme Court after previously being blocked by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then reinstated by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

At issue was whether OSHA had the right to issue the mandate. SCOTUS concluded that it does not, with Justice Kavanaugh writing in his majority opinion that OSHA is responsible for setting workplace safety standards, not public health measures. He notes that “no provision of the [Occupational Safety and Health] Act addresses public health more generally, which falls outside of OSHA’s sphere of influence.”

In their dissent, Justices Breyer, Sotomayer, and Kagan argued that COVID “causes harm in nearly all workplace environments and that just because COVID poses risks outside of the workplace doesn’t invalidate OSHA’s authority to regulate the risk inside the workplace.

At the same time, the court did uphold a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers at facilities receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding. The vote was 5-4.

In the majority opinion, SCOTUS notes that the Secretary of Health and Human Services is tasked with ensuring “that the healthcare providers who care for Medicare and Medicaid patients protect their patients’ health and safety.” They also note that vaccine requirements (e.g., for the flu, hepatitis, and measles, mumps, and rubella) for healthcare workers are common, as are other eligibility conditions.

In dissenting opinions, Justices Thomas and Alito argue that the federal government failed to present adequate statutory proof that it has the power to mandate vaccination.